Bellegarde Bakery Expands its Reach with an Online Shop
NEW ORLEANS – Although Graison Gill has already established his talent and passion for baking bread, he continues to reveal the breadth of his business acumen.
About two months ago, the owner of Bellegarde Bakery announced his plans to relocate and open a retail bakery. And last Tuesday, he launched the bakery’s online store, making it possible for people from around the country to purchase the company’s freshly milled grains and branded merchandise, including chef aprons, tote bags, and bread knives.
Bellegarde's website also offers recipes.
Gill went online in the hopes of expanding his clientele.
“We have a great, loyal clientele and following down here in New Orleans, and within the Gulf South, but also a major reputation nationally and internationally,” Gill explained.
Since opening Bellegarde Bakery 2013, he’s provided freshly stone-milled flour and bread to more than 100 restaurants and markets throughout Louisiana. And in the process, he’s cultivated strong business relationships with such chefs as Alon Shaya, Nina Compton, Justin Devillier, Isaac Toups, Kristen Essig and Michael Stoltzfus.
Bacchanal, La Boca, and Couvant are just a few restaurants that feature Bellegarde’s products on their menus.
Gill sells commodities to retailers like Martin Wine Cellar, Whole Foods and Rouses Market.
He says that most of his sales stem from word of mouth and “customer reviews.”
“If a sous chef or a line cook goes to work for another restaurant, they're typically bringing us with them,” Gill said. “That's really how the majority of our businesses have been developed and maintained; it’s through those consistent relationships, and our reputation.”
He’s also fostered friendships with local farmers and producers, which makes it easy for him to trace his ingredients directly to the source.
“We know pretty much, where every single ingredient in our bakery comes from … That's something that's incredibly unique, not just for this city, but also for a bakery, nationally,” he said. “That's reflected in the flavor of our breads.”
Gill acknowledged that growing his bakery comes with the typical challenges faced by other local small business owners. But the “biggest issue” he’s faced involves “dealing with local infrastructure and with local government.”
“It's typically nothing but headache and heartache, whether it's dealing with a boil water advisory, or whatever it may be, just on a day-to-day level,” he said, adding that he and his employees must contend with potholes and traffic, which is often caused by road construction.
Working with clients from large companies who lack professionalism and “consistency,” in terms of “responsiveness and accountability,” has also been difficult, said Gill.
“That's been tough for us as a small business, not just for obvious things, like cash flow, but also for maintaining momentum with what we're doing,” he said.
But on the other hand, collaborating with businesses like Dickie Brennan & Co. and Alon Shaya's Pomegranate Hospitality group, among many others, has been a rewarding experience.
“(They’ve) been incredible, in terms of their helpfulness and their professionalism as we've grown, and as we've increased our reputation,” said Gill. “I don't think it would be possible without mentors, so to speak, and examples to look up to, with people like them.”
Gill’s new brick-and-mortar bakery with a retail storefront, which is set to open in mid-2019, will offer custom-blended Congregation Coffee, a myriad of artisan breads, and pantry items like milled flour, jams and preserves; along with fresh pasta.
Gill will expand the bakery’s menu, and host monthly pizza nights and baking classes.
While keeping busy with his current ventures, Gill takes time to set new goals for the future.
He’d like to consolidate his business not only in New Orleans, but within southeast Louisiana, and also “make things a little bit more inclusive for the staff, in terms of making things more possible for long-term retention.”
“We've had an incredible crew, but I think more often than not, especially in New Orleans, a lot of staff are going leave a restaurant, or a food job typically, to open up their own restaurant, or their own food (business),” Gill said, explaining how he wants to create jobs that give his employees room for growth.
“Typically in New Orleans, we don't address those questions of: how can food service be more of a career, and less of a job,” said Gill. “I think those things are very important for me to think about, and to talk about, as a business owner here in New Orleans.”
By Suzanne Pfefferle Tafur, Biz New Orleans associate news editor